The Digital Tipping Point: The Future of Education Assessment and Reporting

from Educators' eZine

In the knowledge economy of the 21st Century, a wholesale shift is taking place in the skill sets required for people to participate and succeed. This has tremendous implications for both individuals and nations. The ability to digitize content and send it around the globe at the speed of light means that many high paying jobs can now be performed anywhere in the world.

Consider that 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs in the new knowledge-driven economy will require some post-secondary education. Currently, the median income of those in the U.S. with only a high school education is 37 percent lower than those with a four-year college degree, a gap that is destined to grow even wider as global economic competition continues to heat up.

As we all seek to compete effectively in this new economic landscape, more emphasis is being placed on education—including the segment of the education market known as assessment and reporting.

Until recently, few people outside of the education profession were even aware of assessment and reporting as a distinct segment of the education market. I have to admit that I was one of them. My background is in Information Technology—IT. Prior to becoming president of McGraw-Hill Assessment and Reporting, I was the Company's Chief Information Officer and before that, CIO at TRW.

McGraw-Hill Education selected an IT executive to lead the Assessment and Reporting division because the Company realized that digitization was the future of Assessment and Reporting.

By implementing a comprehensive computer and online system of assessment and reporting, we can:

  • identify and eliminate gaps in individual student learning as they are developing;
  • allow students to carry their assessment records with them from school district to school district, the way patients today carry their medical records with them;
  • implement much faster turnaround of student results;
  • be accurate, timely and nuanced enough to account for the numerous variables that can have an impact on how a student learns and retains knowledge.

This is a tall order, and we know that no single institution or company can do it alone. It is going to take the combined and coordinated efforts of everyone who has a stake in our education infrastructure, including teachers, parents, and students; business leaders in both the education publishing and technology industries; and legislators at all levels of government.

We all have to work together to make this happen.

Here's where we are now, and where new developments are already taking us:

  • We are evolving from a mostly summative testing environment into an integrated formative/summative assessment environment.
  • We are still in a system where most teachers and parents have to wait weeks for results, but we are rapidly moving into a system where dynamic and actionable information will be available in real time.
  • We are moving from a system that is purely diagnostic on the macro level of states and school systems, to one that incorporates assessment for ongoing learning at the individual student level.
  • We are moving away from filling in bubbles with a No. 2 pencil on paper to a digitized and online system of assessment and reporting.
  • We are implementing a statewide online system to deliver students results to parents.

Furthermore, we are at a unique point in the history of education, due to the rapid adoption of digital technology by today's youth. Students are very tech-savvy and comfortable using the latest technology, often at a level at least equivalent to that of educators. Today's "digital native" students are at ease multitasking, using the latest software and hardware, and are eager to incorporate technology into their lives.

To make this new system viable and bring it fully to life, the entire mindset of the industry is going to have to change. That will happen quickly, once we reach what I call the "tipping point." The tipping point for the music industry occurred when Napster-dot-com came on the scene, and the price of CD writers dropped below $200. At that point, Dell began to build CD writers into every computer they sold.

Three things have to happen for the tipping point to occur in education:

  • We need to have access to a truly robust, wireless, high bandwidth system of Internet access and communications—you can't have wires running all over a classroom. This will occur as the price of storage and bandwidth continues to drop. Remember, at one time storage was $100/gigabyte; today it is less than $1.
  • We must have a smart software agent that can run in the background, guiding knowledge navigation and creating a more intuitive and highly customized learning experience.
  • Most critical, we need to decide upon and develop the end-user device that students will employ to interface with the assessment and tutoring Internet universe.

Will it be a laptop, a PDA-like device, or something completely different? We don't know yet. One possibility is a hand-held, note-book sized device designed specifically for education with wireless Internet connectivity, intelligent software working in the background, the ability to display text and images, and play music, and which can be interfaced via voice, stylus or keyboard.

Now we're talking about technology that will not just be using the old paradigms, but which will truly enhance learning and education by taking advantage of the incredible potential of digital technology.

Dr. Mostafa Mehrabani is responsible for the growth and development of McGraw-Hill Assessment and Reporting, comprised of CTB/McGraw-Hill and The Grow Network/McGraw-Hill. A former CIO in the technology industry, he has served on many information technology company boards and advisory committees, including Dell Computer, Microsoft, and AT&T. Dr. Mehrabani holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from California State University at Fullerton, a master's degree in computer science from Loyola Marymount University, and a doctoral degree in business management from Pepperdine University.